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The story behind One Shot in the Storm

One Shot in the Storm is book 4 in the Dorset Chronicles series, adventure, drama and love in the forging of our modern nation. William of Orange is on the throne but the reign is far from secure. James II badly wants his throne back but fled the country and some say his right to the throne in December 1688. He’s in Ireland and a definite threat. But if William goes, he leaves the door open for Louis XIV of France, the Sun King, and the most powerful man in the world.

The answer is a lightening strike in Ireland, bring James to battle and win (rather essential), then return to England before Louis can move against him. James knows this yet his character acts against his interests once again. He goes to battle against William, despite advice to the contrary. Good advice said to take the ports and starve William of supplies while avoiding a fight. Instead James goes into the Battle of the Boyne, at best half believing he can win.

He loses and yet again he flees.

So how does this effect our folk in Dorset?  The Earl of Sherborne is desperate to fight but the Test Acts make it impossible for him to take a commission. This does not bar the way for him. He enlists as a private soldier and experiences the Battle of the Boyne first hand.

There is war in the American colonies as well. It follows the familiar pattern – England against France. And one of our Dorset people is over there to witness the frustrations of tit-for-tat border wars, before returning to Dorset with specific aims in mind.

Meanwhile, back in Dorset, there are thrilling adventures; death, the gallows, love lost and found again and new hope piercing through those dark storm clouds.

One Shot in the Storm is due out on March 7th.

Here’s the front cover:

OneShot_Cover_Mockup

 

 

 

Introduction to The Stuff of Heroes

 

The Stuff of Heroesis book one of the Semblance of Order Trilogy. The books are firmly in the alternative history mode, set in the post-war years after a disastrous and short WWII, in which Britain never re-armed and lost the struggle early on. The Nazi regime is dominant in Europe and there is a real sense of a German Empire. Britain was occupied in 1940 as they had no effective weapon to fight the Luftwaffe; the Spitfire had been considered but rejected firmly, leaving the airways free for the Messerschmitts to swoop where they would. Skip forward 25 years and a whole generation of Britons has grown up to subservience, knowing their place. It is almost feudal in outlook.

Except there is a resistance. And the resistance has a remarkable feature. The Beat Kids are Rock and Rollers; young people, male and female, influenced by the incredible music coming out of America. The main stronghold is the Chislehurst Caves, an intricate series of underground caverns offering fantastic hideaways just outside London.

Incidentally, I got the idea for the Beat Kids after reading a book about Germany in the 1930s. Several of the young characters were members of the Swing Kids for their love of illicit jazz from America. I transferred the concept to occupied Britain and moved the idea on a generation, much closer to my own time and reflecting my love of rock and roll!

Mark Smith is in his early thirties, too old to be a Beat Kid. In fact, all he wants is a quiet life in academia but trouble comes looking for him. It caught him once, resulting in a long prison sentence. It threatens him again, particularly when he becomes entangled with Georgia Nullgeben, the sector commander’s arrogant seventeen-year-old daughter. It offers him a chance for freedom, yet circumstances drag him into the resistance when Georgia is kidnapped on the basis of information he has supplied.

The Stuff of Heroesis effectively a demolishing of arrogance and order, replacing them with kindness and chaos in roughly equal measure, but recognising that arrogance can combine with kindness, just as one can have chaos within order. Further, efficiency is exposed to be a manic distortion of the order it seeks. Mark and Georgia both have long journeys to make, much to realise and much prejudice to hold them back.

But, The Stuff of Heroesis so much more. There is a tender love story amidst all the fast-paced action. There are also sub-stories so that a dozen or more characters come together to give a picture of what it must have been like to live under the fearsome yoke of oppression and to attempt to rise up against it.

 

Book 2 of the trilogy, The Agent Within, follows the themes of order against chaos, empire against nations, obedience against individuality, with an equal amount of action, tenderness and humour. It will be released later this year. Book 3, tentatively called The Beat Kids, should follow in 2021.

Finally, an interesting note; I wrote The Stuff of Heroes, first version, over twenty-years ago while running my business. I lost the manuscript in one of our many house moves and set about re-writing it in 2018. One day I might find version one again and it will make for a fascinating comparison.

One Shot in the Storm – the Storm that is on its way!

Book 4 of the Dorset Chronicles is coming in March. It’s called One Shot in the Storm. It features a number of storms, both weather-related and other! Based in 1690, it takes the story of the Davenports, the Sherbornes and the Merrimans on to new adventures and through new disasters.

Here is the front cover as it stands right now. Let me know what you think.

OneShot_Cover_Mockup

A Simple Taster for A Simple Mistake

It started as A Simple Mistake…

Believing himself spurned by the woman he loves, a distraught Thomas Davenport leaves Dorset, intending to go as far as possible to cause the most dismay at home. But fate takes him to Ireland, at the height of the 1689 James Stuart invasion. He meets Tristan Browne, an Irishman born in Barbados, coming home to a land in uproar.

The Siege of Londonderry, like so much in the Seventeenth Century, pits countryman against countryman in a bitter war of attrition, starvation and resilience.

Bridget Browne, Tristan’s cousin, is caught up inside the walls of Londonderry and writes a heart-rendering yet insightful account. Published in London, it is quickly recognised as a definitive narrative of the siege from the inside.

Unknown to Thomas, his brother Matthew is also in Ireland, carrying out essential undercover reconnaissance for King William, although he wishes dearly to be back behind the pulpit in his native Dorset and with his new wife, Lady Eliza Merriman.

Thrown together by fate, the four must flee Ireland when Matthew uncovers a corrupt scheme, the work of old adversary Parchman. His master plan is to supply arms and equipment to the Protestant forces at inflated prices and use the money raised in vicious acts of vengeance to destroy Great Little and Bagber Manor back in Dorset.

Can these ancient and historic estates survive or will Parchman succeed and see his foes out on the streets, beggar bowl in hand?

A Simple Mistakecontinues the journey of the Davenport family as they unwittingly contribute to the building of the proud and indomitable nation we know today.

Twenty-Four Hours in a Car

We woke to the mountains, the three of us lying on blankets and rugs in the back of a Mini Traveller. We loved the wooden trim and putt-putt of the little engine.

We had all fallen asleep at different times during the night, all stating to be the last to drop off. Our parents knew whose claim stood the test, for they were on driving duty, swapping places every two hours, motoring on through day and night.

Twenty-four hours from Hampshire to Invergordon.

We always went the same way. Hence, even as little children, we knew the milestones we would pass. And chief amongst them was coming up soon. I got ready to ask the question as we bent around the corners of Inverness-shire and made our way north, always north for that was where we were headed.

“Daddy, why are those fishing boats rotting on the shore of Loch Ness?”

“The fishermen were eaten by the monster.”

“No, really, why?” The tease had only worked the first time yet was repeated in father-like fashion on every occasion.

And then he would answer truthfully.

“They left for the war and did not come back.”

“Didn’t someone else want the boats?”

“Not enough came back.”

 

Donald MacIntosh had often been in the water but never like this. He had swum from the mainland to the Black Isle and across the width of Loch Ness. It was swimming that had introduced him to his wife-to-be; not a race gala at which he could show off his prowess but a yacht capsizing off Invergordon. Being part of the lifeboat crew, he had participated in the rescue of the family on holiday from Edinburgh.

“Is that everyone?” said the captain of the rescue boat. The father and mother looked around the huddled figures, counting them and then recounting.

“Elsie’s missing. Where’s Elsie?” They looked desperately across the darkening water, back to the yacht that bobbed upside-down.

“She was with me in the water!” Rory cried. “I thought she was by my side.”

“I see her,” Donald shouted before standing to dive from the side of the boat. It was two-hundred yards in a fierce storm but only a hundred back for the boat turned and battled its way back towards the rescue scene.

They were married three months later on September 2nd1939; the day after Hitler invaded Poland and the day before Great Britain declared war on Germany.

“I’ll join the navy,” Donald had said. “I’ve got to do something.”

 

The Royal Navy had a way of keeping the volunteers apart. They messed together, worked together and faced the same danger. Yet the career seamen were a notch above the volunteers. Petty Officer Johns delighted in this distinction and Able Seaman MacIntosh’s life was miserable as a result. Defaulters’ parades ate into his shore leave but at least the decks of HMS Bastion shone like silver in sunshine.

Until the torpedo hit and turned the decks to crimson.

“Abandon ship! Abandon ship!” came the cry from the bridge. Most could get to the lifeboats but a small working party was stuck at the bows where the great gun was torn to a ragged mess and blocked the way.

“Help!” came their pitiful cries, somehow surviving against the crash of the waves and the metallic grind of steel on steel as decks and hulls and machinery collided. Donald was in the last boat as it went over the side, clawing at an injured sailor to hoist him aboard. “Help!” came the cry, the voice he knew well, the voice that had tormented him for months. “Help, for the love of God, help me!”

“Can’t we rescue them, sir?”

“The boat is overloaded as it is,” cried the lieutenant, who wore a jagged cut from right eye to left chin, blood flinging in droplets as he swung to face Donald. “We have to look after the wounded as a priority.” He held up his hand to show Donald the boat, saw for the first time his three missing fingers and fainted, slumping like a corpse into the belly of the boat.

“I’ll go back for them,” Donald said with a voice from outside his body. “If the boat is overloaded, it will be better without me.”

Three other able-bodied sailors came with him, together they formed the rescue party. One was lost overboard when the ship lurched to starboard, sinking several feet into the sea. His mate held him briefly until a gust of wind settled his fate. That left three, until the radar mast, just fitted the previous month, came down on top of one sailor, killing him instantly. It seemed to Donald that the man’s life, a ball of energy, escaped from the body, rolled down the listing deck and came to a halt by the upturned gun.

That was the gun that they needed to get past to reach the bows. They made it minutes before HMS Bastion slid into the sea, seeking the depths. There was only Petty Officer Johns alive.

“Thank you!” was mouthed but the storm and the metal-on-metal drowned all other sound.

Donald looked for something to make a raft. There was a wooden hatch cover just large enough for three but it would not come away. He grabbed a piece of broken pipe and levered it off, snapping the hatch in two and splintering the remaining part. What was left would provide a platform for two only. At least Donald was a strong swimmer.

“Over it goes, time it right.” They flung the hatch over the bows as the boat dipped further. “Jump!” he cried into a sudden lull before the storm picked up again. Donald waited a split second to ensure the other two jumped into the water. They said afterwards that the split second made all the difference. The bow rose again, the never-ending rhythm of the sea, snapping both Donald’s legs in two as he jumped after his comrades.

It was cold in the water as the sea soaked into his broken legs and wiped out the pain. Donald struck out with his arms but his body would not respond. Petty Officer Johns on his raft had just picked up the other of the rescue party. He struggled to paddle the raft with his arms, just as Donald struggled to reach the raft. Their eyes met as Donald’s head followed his broken body down.

“I misjudged you, man,” Johns’ eyes seemed to say but he never knew if the message got across the stretch of sea between them for they were misted in tears.

 

Chief Petty Officer Johns survived the war, was decorated twice for bravery and was known for his strong leadership and for bringing together the volunteers with the regulars. He did not marry until long after the war and was in his fifties when his first and only child was born.

“We will call him Donald MacIntosh Johns, if it pleases you, wife dear,” he said before the Christening. “In memory of…” She looked across and saw his eyes misted over.

“Of course, my dear,” she replied. There was no storm between them, that day or this, for young Donald was with them and no widening gap of sea between.

 

Elsie came to see Donald’s boat the day she got news of his death. She leaned against its beached side and wept for her loss. Already it looked like it needed some care but she knew nothing about boats. She left the Highlands at the end of the week and went back to Edinburgh, to her family. From there she went to London and worked as a secretary for an admiral. Long after the war, thinking she would never marry again, she met a kind-hearted man who had retired from the navy with two medals to his name. She became Elsie Johns at a small wedding ceremony in Hastings where they lived by the sea. They had one son, the delightful boy called Donald, who loved, above all else, to swim and fish.

 

My father proudly announced that we had made the journey in a record twenty-three hours and twenty minutes. I had not noticed the last hour from the rotting fishing boats on the shore of Loch Ness.

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